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The Massachusetts Senate is expected to propose a budget Wednesday that reflects the state's plummeting tax revenues. So far this year, the legislature has shown little appetite for Gov. Deval Patrick's proposals to close the budget gap by raising taxes on gasoline, alcohol, candy and soda.
So the governor is going on the road, trying to enlist the support of voters. Thursday night, he's planning a meeting at the Roxbury YMCA to listen to what voters have to say. He began his tour Monday in Braintree.
Gov. Patrick clearly enjoys these sessions with voters.
"Is it best if I pass this around to everybody?" Patrick asked the crowd. "I can do the Oprah thing. Here we go: Carla, you say what?"
This year, the state's revenues are down by $3.4 billion. The governor tells the 70 people who have come to this evening gathering at the big modern Thayer Public Library, in Braintree, that he wants people to tell him what programs are important and how taxpayers should pay for them.
His audience learns that 62 percent of the budget comes from taxes, that 58 percent of the taxes come from the income tax.
"Is it too much?" he asked. "It's too much information? This is the first one we've done."
Someone speaks out in support of a proposal by Patrick and a legislative commission to charge telecommunications companies property taxes.
"Everybody know what we're talking about on this telecom thing?" Patrick asked. "Anybody not know? Want a little explanation? So the phone company does not pay property tax on the polls and the wires."
Judith Gangle, from Randolph, supports Patrick's proposal to tax candy.
"Maybe we should scale the tax on candy according to the sugar content," said Gangle. "So that kids who want to still eat candy and have less money in their pocket would be tending to buy the lower-sugar candies."
"Who else thinks this is a good idea?" Patrick asked.
A few hands go up. Someone who just gives his first name, Tom, disagrees.
"I think it's a bad idea because you'll open Pandora's box. " Tom said. "Next, you'll be after ice cream, and cookies, and cakes — and everything else. "
Tom also thinks that Patrick's proposed 19-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax is too high.
"Why don't you have a 10-percent gas tax and a 6-percent sales tax?" Tom asked. "Have both, instead of hitting us with a 19-cent gas tax."
"There's nothing magic about 19 cents," Patrick replied.
The hands are going up.
"One, two, three, four, five, six. Six?" Patrick counted. "You seven. All right? Then we'll do another round. All right? But you have to remember your number. Think of this as the bakery."
Paul Meoni's number comes up. He's the chairman of the Randolph School Committee.
"And so I think flat taxes like 19-cent gas tax and things like that, and raising the sales tax — that hurts everybody," Meoni said. "But it really hurts the most vulnerable people in the Commonwealth harder, so that would be my advice to you and to your team is to just try to keep that in mind — that when you raise taxes and fees, think of who you're impacting, their ability to deal with that increase."
"It's an incredibly important point — Paul, right?" Patrick said. "So, and therefore, what? What would you do?"
"Well, you know, for instance, 19-cent gas tax," Paul told him. "If I'm making a very small wage and I'm driving to work, or driving my kids to school, that's going to hurt me really bad."
"I got it," Patrick said.
"So maybe not do 19 cents, maybe only do 10."
If one of Patrick's purposes in engaging voters face-to-face is to enlist their support in raising taxes, it's definitely working. The people who turn out at this forum may not agree on which taxes to raise or by how much, but they're buying into the idea that they'll have to pay more.
This program aired on May 13, 2009.
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